N187bn Fraud: EFCC Arrests Humanitarian Ministry’s Contractor, Probes Four Buhari Ministers

The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission has arrested a contractor, James Okwete, in connection with the ongoing probe into the N37bn allegedly laundered by the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management, and Social Development under former Minister, Sadiya Umar-Farouk.

A top EFCC official, who confided in our correspondent on Sunday, said the contractor had made useful statements concerning  Umar-Farouk and former directors-general of the ministry.

The development coincides with the probe of three other ministers, who served under former President Muhammadu Buhari, for graft estimated at N150bn.

“It is not only Umar-Farouk we are investigating. Three other former ministers are also under probe. They were allegedly involved in graft to the tune of N150bn,’’ a credible source in the EFCC confided in our correspondent on Sunday.

Sources said Umar-Farouk and some former agencies’ directors-general under the ministry might be arrested by the anti-graft commission following the details of the financial misappropriation so far revealed to investigators by the contractor.

The ex-minister could not be reached for comments on Sunday. Also, when our correspondent contacted her former media aide, Nneka Ikem, she did not pick her phone calls neither did she respond to an SMS sent to her.

Investigation revealed that the N37.1bn was transferred from the Federal Government’s coffers and sent to 38 different bank accounts domiciled in five legacy commercial banks belonging to or connected with Okwete.

Impeccable sources confirmed to The PUNCH on Sunday that Okwete, who is being held at the EFCC Headquarters, Jabi, Abuja, had been cooperating with investigators.

According to the EFCC officials, the contractor was arrested four days ago.

A source said, “The contractor, Mr Okwete, who was used in laundering the money had been arrested by the commission. He is currently detained in our custody and has been giving investigators more details that have indicted the former Minister, Sadiya and some DGs under the ministry, and they may be brought in anytime soon too.”

Alleged N37bn fraud

Another source noted, “The contractor involved in the N37.bn fraud has been arrested and would spend Christmas in our custody. He has given some names, and the former humanitarian affairs minister and directors-general in the ministry were linked to the fraud.”

The PUNCH reports that the Federal Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs currently serves as the parent ministry to eight agencies, including the National Social Investment Office, the Office of the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Sustainable Development Goals, and the National Commission for Refugees, Migrants, and Internationally Displaced Persons, among others.

Umar-Farouq was the pioneer Minister of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development.

She was appointed by former President Muhammadu Buhari in July 2019 as the youngest cabinet member.

Her work with Buhari dates back to his days as the leader and presidential candidate of the defunct Congress for Progressive Change when she was the national treasurer of the party and later the national treasurer of the All Progressives Congress.

Documents obtained by The PUNCH revealed that following receipt of the funds, Okwete transferred N6,746,034,000 to Bureau De Change Operators, withdrew N540 million in cash, purchased luxury cars with N288,348,600 and bought luxury houses in Abuja and Enugu State with N2,195,115,000.

So far, 53 companies had been traced to Okwete, who was also said to have used 47 of the firms to secure Federal Government contracts amounting to N27,423,824,339.86.

He is also linked with 143 bank accounts in 12 commercial banks of which 134 accounts are corporate accounts linked to different companies.

Checks by our correspondent with the Corporate Affairs Commission revealed that Okwete is a director in only 11 of the 53 companies, while the remaining 42 companies’ accounts were linked to his Bank Verification Number as a signatory to the accounts.

The document revealed, “Between 2018 and 2023, the subject (Okwete) received the sum of N37,170,855,753.44 from the coffers of the Federal Government linked to the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development.

“The money  was sent to 38 bank accounts domiciled in five legacy commercial banks. The suspect transferred N6,746,034,000 to Bureau De Change Operators, N540mn withdrawn in cash, N288,348,600 used to purchase cars and used N2,195,115,000 to purchase choice properties within Abuja and Enugu State.

“Fifty-three companies were traced to the suspect. He used 47 of the companies to lift Federal Government contracts amounting to N27,423,824,339.86.

‘’Okwete is associated with 143 bank accounts in 12 commercial banks in which 134 of the 143 accounts are corporate accounts linked to different companies.”

The spokesperson for the EFCC, Dele Oyewale declined comments.

“I can’t speak on that, please,” Oyewale said.

Meanwhile, in 2020, the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission said it uncovered N2.67bn meant for the ministry’s school feeding programme in private bank accounts.

The former ICPC Chairman, Prof Bolaji Owasanoye, disclosed that the commission unravelled N2.67bn in personal accounts, being payment made to some federal colleges for school feeding during the COVID-19 lockdown in 2020.

THE PUNCH

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